In the field of anti-cancer drug research, mainstream work is shifting from chemotherapeutic treatments that kill cancer cells and inhibit cell division to molecularly based drugs that focus on targets specifically seen in cancer cells and tissue. Daiichi Sankyo is seeking to develop such molecularly targeted drugs from low molecules and antibodies.
In May 2008, Daiichi Sankyo took further steps to increase its research and development pipeline in the area of anti-cancer drug research by acquiring Germany-based U3 Pharma, a company with many promising anti-body drug candidates for treating cancer. In addition, Daiichi Sankyo entered a licensing agreement (worldwide rights, excluding Japan and certain other Asian countries) in November 2008 with ArQule Inc. for the US-based company's anti-cancer drug candidate tivantinib. The two companies also entered an agreement for a cooperative research program involving the ArQule Kinase Inhibitor Discovery Platform (AKIP) to discover new compounds.
More over, in April 2011 Daiichi Sankyo acquired Plexxikon Inc., a privately held pharmaceutical company based in Berkeley, California with a late-stage oncology product, PLX4032, as well as a promising pipeline and technology platform.
These alliances have greatly expanded Daiichi Sankyo's research and development pipeline in the area of anti-cancer drug research. In the area of anti-body technologies, Daiichi Sankyo has entered into alliances with such biotechnology companies as US-based Seattle Genetics Inc. and Germany-based MorphoSys AG. Within its own research organisation, Daiichi Sankyo has restructured its Advanced Technology Research Laboratories to focus exclusively on anti-body drugs, renaming the facility Biologics Research Laboratories.
Important achievements have also been made in this field in the past. In 1977, Sankyo launched one of the world's first cancer treatments under the brand name Krestin®. It is still used to fight gastric and colon cancer as well as non-small cell lung cancer. In the 1990s another leading cancer therapy was developed by Daiichi. Together with Yakult Honsha, the company developed irinotecan, which is still a standard treatment in colon cancer care. The product was licensed to other pharmaceutical companies outside Japan. The existing early pipeline also is very promising.
Founded by the renowned Professor Axel Ullrich, whose discoveries have led to novel cancer therapies, the biotechnology firm U3 Pharma is an emerging leader in targeted cancer drug development. U3 Pharma's pipeline has many fully human therapeutic anti-body drug candidates in the oncology area that show very promising results in pre-clinical research.
These anti-bodies are expected to be effective for many types of cancer. Working through U3 Pharma, Daiichi Sankyo is also seeking to enhance its drug-discovery research capabilities in this field through a partnership with the Max Planck Institute, one of Germany's leading research organisations.
Plexxikon, a member of Daiichi Sankyo Group, is a leader in the structure-guided discovery and development of novel small molecule pharmaceuticals to treat human disease. The company’s lead drug Zelboraf (vemurafenib/PLX4032) was approved by the FDA in August 2011, and is being co-promoted in the U.S. by Daiichi Sankyo Inc. and Genentech. The company is developing a portfolio of clinical and preclinical stage compounds to address significant unmet medical needs in oncology, as well as in several other therapeutic indications. Plexxikon’s Scaffold-Based Drug DiscoveryTM platform integrates multiple state-of-the-art technologies, including structural screening as a key component that provides a significant competitive advantage over other drug discovery approaches.